Ananiashvili went on to further fame as one of American Ballet Theatre’s most popular principal dancers and a guest star with major companies around the world, while always returning to Moscow to dance and train.
But here’s what’s unusual now: Her celebrated dancing is, in a rather personal way, part of the problem.
At age 48, she can’t stop. She’s tired, and she has a young daughter with whom she longs to spend time. She also has a company to run, the State Ballet of Georgia, based in Tbilisi, Ananiashvili’s home town. But that’s just it: A raft of young dancers and the cultural prestige of her homeland depend on her name, her box-office appeal. She has to dance to get folks in the door.
Ananiashvili has been artistic director of the Georgian company since 2004. Soon after the bloodless demonstrations of the “Rose Revolution,” in which the New York-educated Mikheil Saakashvili took over as president from the ousted Eduard Shevardnadze, Saakashvili asked Ananiashvili to revive the national ballet company. Following Georgia’s independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, and the civil war and economic crisis that followed, the troupe was in tatters and rarely performed.
The request — by a midday phone call — took the ballerina by surprise. But how could Ananiashvili, whose global success had allowed her to escape her nation's troubles, now turn down the young president who saw his country’s ballet company as a symbol of Georgian pride and independence?
“Because it was proposal from the president, I want to help my country,” says Ananiashvili, speaking by phone recently from the company’s headquarters in Tbilisi, where she was taking a break from rehearsal. She speaks fluent, charmingly staccato English, with a soft accent. “It was difficult for me to say no. I just say, ‘Let me try.’ ”
The ballerina had no experience running a company. She was still enjoying her twin careers at ABT and the Bolshoi. But she moved back to Tbilisi, where she had not lived since she was a child. (A junior figure-skating champion, she had moved to Moscow at age 13 to study ballet.) She found deplorable conditions, no electricity, few supplies — and no pay for the dancers. She told them salaries would come — eventually — if they stuck with her. And then she called on her many friends throughout the ballet world to help train the dancers in a whole new repertoire of European choreography — works by Denmark’s August Bournonville and England’s Frederick Ashton — and neoclassical ballets by George Balanchine, the native son who had modernized the art form a world away.